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The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art Hardcover – February 3, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Patron of the arts is not the first association one makes with George Washington, but Howard elegantly makes the case that the founder of the nation also helped establish Americas art. Though architecture, not painting, was Washingtons preferred art, Americas first prominent artists painted him: Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, Benjamin West and Gilbert Stuart, the most distinguished American painter of the period. Washington, who Howard argues was easier to see and admire than to understand, is subtly revealed in a narrative that is precisely paced and elegantly composed. Howard (Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson) illuminates Washington as an eminent patron of emerging American artists, who fostered nothing less than the birth of American painting. He also insightfully documents how Washingtons evolving public image and often inscrutable character were diversely revealed by some of the most eminent visual artists of the 18th century, many of whose images propelled Washingtons iconic status. This perspective will interest scholars of Washington and of early American art, as well as general readers seeking a refreshing angle on Washington and art in America. 8 pages of color photos. (Feb.)
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Review

“[A] lively narrative…A novel, ingeniously executed approach to the inspiring man whose dollar-bill likeness is arguably the most reproduced painted image in history.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Intricate and engaging…Howard's story is…not only about the birth of American painting, but--through the creation of its first, most long-lasting, and most transcendent human icon--about the invention of America itself.” ―The American Scholar

“Patron of the arts is not the first association one makes with George Washington, but Howard elegantly makes the case that the founder of the nation also helped establish America's art. Though architecture, not painting, was Washington's preferred art, America's first prominent artists painted him: Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, Benjamin West and Gilbert Stuart, the most distinguished American painter of the period. Washington, who Howard argues was "easier to see and admire than to understand," is subtly revealed in a narrative that is precisely paced and elegantly composed.” ―Publishers Weekly

“In the delightful The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art, Hugh Howard develops the idea of Washington as a patron of the arts and examines how art and the painting of portraits developed in the United States.” ―Book Page

“Hugh Howard's highly original work offers a completely new perspective on the Father of our Country, examining his life through the eyes of six of the 28 artists for whom he sat, showing how his increasing fame accelerated the development of American painting, and offering insight into how history and myth are made by images…History is a story, a myth that we are told and that we tell one another, that defines our existence as a people and a nation. What Hugh Howard so deftly tells in this important book is how the arts of painting and sculpture came to take an increasingly central part in our understanding of the first decades of the United States. He also alters our understanding of that amazing man, George Washington” ―Dallas Morning News

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596912448
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596912441
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard Dicanio on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Painter's Chair by Hugh Howard is a wonderful book comprising two subjects,one is of course George Washington and the other about art and early artists of which the two seemed to go hand in hand.It appears that early American painting especially those of portraiture were a bit lacking in substance and depth.One dimentional depictions of various wealthy people, the only people who could, at that time afford to commission them.They were rather boring likenesses,flat and uninspiring.Along came Washington,a man who had no taste for it but knew the need of a likeness of him was sorely needed and desired.He soon became big business as the world wanted to see the most popular man in it.Photography being many years away, the only choice was a portrait.This book explores the many artists of the day and how they exploited this need for profit and fame.Copely,Trumbull,West,Stuart,all the Peales and even Houdon are examined here, with their contribution to early American art and how they gave us the only reliable likeness of the father of our country.The need was there,Washington knew it but truly disliked it.He did it anyway sitting still for hours in the painters chair, a device designed to turn with the light so as not to disturb the subject.Washington was a busy man and did not like to sit still he also did not appreciate the banter of artists as they attempted to amuse,disturb or cajole him to gain more insight into his countenance in order to represent the true self, a self he chose to keep private. The man even tolerated straws in his nostrils and being quite smothered in plaster as Houdon created what was to become the only true likeness, warts and all, of Washington. The likeness used today to digitally recreate his face as it was then as the portraits tended to vary by painter.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I was initially unsure whether I would be interested in the subject of portraiture of Washington, I learned that this book had so much more to it. The whole phenomenon of building our nation's art culture is contained within the pages. I'm even planning to use the information for a club presentation as it really covers a lot of information on the artists of the day. Because my book club had chosen this for us to read, I unsuspectingly learned something having long-term effects. Thank you, Mr. Howard.
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Format: Hardcover
In "Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson," Hugh Howard included a history of early American architecture in tracing the career of architectural historian Fiske Kimball. Now, in his latest book, "The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art," he has accomplished a similar tour de force for American painting.

His argument is simple: the image of Washington was so desired by the American public that the first president's portraiture encouraged early American painters to establish an art culture that was previously non-existent. Washington sat in "the painter's chair" for Charles Wilson Peale, his son Rembrandt, John Trumbull, and perhaps most importantly, Gilbert Stuart, whose portrait is on the one-dollar bill.

Washington hated to sit for his portrait, but he obliged a series of painters by posing for them, and in doing so, established portraiture, and subsequently landscape painting, as an art form to be admired and encouraged in the newly-created nation. In this well-researched account, Howard's narrative of the lives and careers of the nation's first painters is a short history of early American portraiture, and of the popularity of Washington to his countrymen.

As is true of Howard's earlier works, this is a gracefully-written, highly-readable book, an engaging feast for anyone interested in American history or American art.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just as George Washington led the birth of the American nation, he also led the birth of American art. THE PAINTER'S CHAIR is about the early American artists who gained experience and fame by painting George Washington and his contemporaries. Before photographs were invented, painted portraits of leaders and events recorded American history. George Washington's career was illustrated in paintings by master artists, most of whom were related by blood, mentors, or friendships. The artists perfected their techniques by studying earlier portraits and by copying the techniques of predecessors. THE PAINTER'S CHAIR is an excellent history and art history book, which connects the artists, events, and leaders of the 18th and 19th centuries (in the United States and Europe) in profoundly interesting ways.
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Format: Hardcover
Hugh Howard's The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art brings to life not only America's most inaccessible founding father but also the men for whom he sat as they created his "likeness." Although I've taught and talked about some of these works for many years, the artists have only been relative stick figures for me. Now Hugh Howard breathes life into the young dandy John Singleton Copley, the hard-working Charles Willson Peale, the hard-living aristocrat Jonathon Trumbull, and the raffish Gilbert Stuart.

Some books of history are important works of research but dreadfully dull to actually read. Not this one. These intertwined stories of the founding fathers of the American nation and the founding fathers of American art comprise a fascinating, decades-long drama. The Painter's Chair will be a contender when the awards are presented for best history book of 2009.
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